From now until March 2, The Only Animal invites you to step into the world of their latest production, Nothing But Sky—a comic-book world of heroes and villains, lovers and underdogs, flesh and ink. Written and directed by Kendra Fanconi, Nothing But Sky explores the true story of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the artist and writer behind the legendary Superman, and Joanne Kovacs, the original model for Lois Lane.
Feeling small and powerless in a big and uncaring world, Joe and Jerry dream up Superman–the ultimate champion of the underdog and protector of the weak, a man who can catch bullets in his bare hands and who disguises himself as a regular schmuck (i.e. bespectacled Clark Kent) to avoid discovery. Together, the pair create a hero stronger, better, and braver than they are, and dream of blue skies and smooth sailing for themselves and for their creation. Unfortunately for the friends and artistic partners, nothing is as black and white as their comic-book fantasy: DC Comics (to whom Joe and Jerry sell the rights) wants to control Superman (and his profits), and both men find themselves in love with their Lois Lane, a model named Joanne Kovacs. For Joanne’s part, she wants to be loved for who she is; a person in her own right and not just a stand-in for a paper and ink character.
The most breathtaking aspect of Nothing But Sky is most certainly the blending of comic-book animation with live staging. Projections create both the “real world” of the characters and the world of their creation. Eventually, for artist Joe especially, the lines between the world he has drawn and the world as it is begin to blur until we are not sure where he truly lives. The execution of this unique and challenging staging by the actors, artists, and technical crew is a laudable accomplishment. Nothing But Sky certainly does deliver promise–the promise of new horizons in theatre and new worlds to explore.
Unfortunately, not all of the play’s promises are realized. Though the performances are sharp (the comic-book action sequences especially), the story of Nothing But Sky seemed bigger than the four-person cast’s ability to carry it. Huge amounts of time (i.e. years) pass in a moment, with very little to anchor the audience or prepare it for this leap forward. Most notably, the character of Jerry Siegel comes off as sexually aggressive, socially selfish, and possessed by a delusional perception of his own artistic abilities. With so little to like about this character (despite actor Robert Salvador’s best efforts) I found that I cared very little about the betrayals and injustices he experienced, which is, I think, contrary to Fanconi’s intentions.
That said, Nothing But Sky is still absolutely an experience worth having. The production is a fantastic achievement by everyone involved, by turns magical, humourous, and sad. The technical wizardry alone is worth a look, but the way it is used to support the play is what makes it matter. With such an interesting story, such a beautiful set, and such solid performances, I really really wanted to feel my heart leave my chest. Though it didn’t happen as often as I would have liked, there are moments that truly drew my heart from my body, and those moments are definitely worth watching.
Nothing But Sky is playing in the Faris Family Studio at the Scotiabank Dance Centre until Sunday, March 2. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students on February 26 only) and can be purchased online.
Disclosure: My guest and I attended the opening night performance courtesy of The Only Animal. I was not asked for a review and of course all content remains my own.